Sunday, April 3, 2016

Apple's Autism Awareness Month Films Spark a Larger Conversation

"Not being able to speak is not the same as not having something to say." -- Tami Barmache, Dillan's mother
To celebrate Autism Acceptance Month, Apple released two videos about a 16-year-old boy named Dillan Barmache who uses an iPad app to communicate. Since he is nonverbal, Dillan types out words and sentences on the app and a robotic voice reads them for him. He has been communicating in this way for three years.

Here is the shorter of the two videos:

(A longer video talking more about Dillan's life can be found here.)

I want to take this opportunity to relate Dillan's story to a larger problem. I feel like a lot of people have a negative stigma associated with mental disorders and what I love about these two videos is that they challenge the notion that just because someone is on the autism spectrum does not mean they are unintelligent.

"So many people can't understand that I have a mind. All they see is a person who is not in control," types Dillan. "But now you can hear me ... Having a voice has changed everything in my life."

However, in reality, these videos are Apple ads, and though increasing awareness and promoting acceptance is a step in the right direction, there is still much to do. In doing research for my term paper, (I discussed the lack of federal funding in programs for autistic adults), I found an article where Ari Ne’eman, an adult with autism and the co-founder of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and a member of the National Council on Disability, described an instance where he met “a non-speaking man with autism who was trying to find a job. Ne’eman said the man communicated with him through gestures, and obviously had plenty to say."

The details are complicated, but essentially, people with autism age out of the federally funded system at 21 years old. Here, they enter the tricky world of state funding, where they recieve significantly less programs to aid them thoughout their adult lives. A Washington University study found that while “74.6 percent of high school students had been receiving speech therapy during an earlier phase of the study, only 9.1 percent of young adults were receiving such therapy despite the fact that more than 20 percent were nonverbal and likely in need of such assistance."

Not only does this lack of communication impede the daily lives of people with autism, but it may prevent autistic adults from getting the few jobs that are available to them. Having federal funding extend to communication services for adults would help ease the transition between speaking in a classroom and speaking in a workplace.

Did these videos change your perception of individuals with autism? Do you have any ideas for how to support teens with autism who may not have enough money for iPads or other technological devices? Is this an issue that more people should be concerned with?


1 comment:

Caroline Mameesh said...

I think the fact that Dillan has a means of communication is a wonderful thing. I watched the show Alphas at one point on Netflix and there was an episode where an autistic girl was using her device to communicate with those around her. It allowed her to connect with a main character and become close friends with him; she had a beautiful and intelligent mind that he really appreciated. While that is fiction, it holds some resonance to the story here.
It is tricky to find a way to support teens who do not have the financial means to get iPads or other devices, but perhaps school sets of these devices may help. What's more, Apple could do a fundraiser to buy iPads for autistic kids who need them, if Apple is truly adamant about the cause.
I do believe this is a pressing issue that people need to address. Mental illnesses have a stigma that causes them to be pushed aside, and that is something that can be helped through videos such as these. The more we as a society combat these stigmas, the more help instead of misunderstanding can be promoted.